On Saturday at around 5PM I got a call from a friend’s girlfriend that he needed to be bailed out of jail.
I had no idea how to do this.
Maybe I live a sheltered life, but I learned a lot about how the county jail worked and thought I should share my experience.
I first went to a bail bond place and asked them what I had to do. They said his bail was $500 and I could either pay the county the whole thing, or pay them $128 and they would pay the $500. I said I’d just pay the full amount myself. They told me I’d need the exact amount in cash and that I had to take it to 49 San Jacinto.
I’m going to write another post and how it works on the inside, but for now I’ll just tell you what you have to do.
So I arrive at 49 San Jacinto and have to disarm before I can go in. So I have to go to a place I’m most likely to run into criminals and carry cash – because that’s all they take – and I have to disarm. They’ve got the sign posted for CHL holders. I did feel a little better when I saw two deputies and they had empty holsters. So I guess everyone disarms in the jail house.
It is now about 6:30 PM on a Saturday night. There is a line of about 30 people waiting. There are nine windows where you can pay. And as far as I can see there is no one working any of them. There is no one visible behind the windows and there is one one waiting in front of one. I wondered if I was in the right place and the guy in front of me told me I was and I’d be there till 8 or 9 waiting to get helped.
He was almost exactly right. I was finally done at 8:30PM.
They had 1 person working the window and they called up a new person about every 20 minutes. Luckily some of the 30 people were in groups. They’d call the next person to the window. Then slowly handle the person and then get up and wonder around shooting the bull with other workers and then come back and handle another person.
When you finally get to the window they look up the person you are there to bail out and tell you want the bail is. Then they want your ID and the bail in exact cash. Then you have to fill out a few forms.
One of the things they will ask you is if you want to take responsibility for the person you are bailing out. If you say yes, and the defendant doesn’t show for trial, you are responsible for all the court costs as well as losing your bail money. If you say no, then the money is returned to the defendant and not to you. Minus 5% admin fee of course.
If you have a bail bond, you get a piece of paper you give them. I didn’t do that so I don’t know exactly what happens in that case. I do know the bondsman have an express lane and don’t have to wait in line.
Once you actually pay the person’s bail, they will be released in 6 to 8 hours. Unless they hit a shift change, which will add an hour or two because they have to screw around when they come on duty.
Ahh, government efficiency. Can’t wait till they run our health care.
The guy in front and back of me in line were there to check themselves into jail. They are serving a 30 day sentence 1 day at a time on the weekend. He said he had to be in line at 6PM and would be released by 6AM. After waiting in line for 2 hours he said he’d be told to go around the corner and sit next the the elevator for an hour until a deputy comes down to start processing him in. The in processing won’t be done till right before he is to be released so he’ll never end up in an actual cell.
Given the snails pace that everything works in the Harris County Jail it is no wonder they have an over crowding problem. While part of the problem is we have too many stupid laws that require someone to be arrested – not to mention the you-pissed-off-the-cop crimes that get you arrested instead of ticketed – just the gross inefficiency of those working there.
Made me want to run for Sheriff.
If it took less than 6 hours to release people who’s bail has been paid there would be more open spaces. And then we could work on it taking less than 2 hours to pay someone’s bail. This is a simple efficiency problem, not a political one.
When I write my next post on what happens when you are arrested, you’ll see on that side you could get lots of people – or yourself – out quicker.